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Kennedy: Chappaquiddick haunted me 'every day of my life'

September 3, 2009 |  8:01 am

Ted Kennedy leaving the Edgarton, Mass courthouse after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident in the 1969 car crash at Chappaquiddick The late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy -- mourned by millions, eulogized by President Obama, buried  in a place of honor next to his two slain brothers at Arlington Cemetery -- is getting the last word.

In a memoir titled "True Compass," to be published Sept. 14, Kennedy called his actions in the 1969 car crash that led to the death of his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne "inexcusable." When his car drove off the bridge, he wrote, he was afraid, overwhelmed and "made terrible decisions." The senator was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and given a two-month suspended sentence.

Writing at the end of his life, as he struggled against brain cancer, Kennedy concluded: "That night on Chappaquiddick Island ended in a horrible tragedy that haunts me every day of my life." Forced to live with the guilt over his failure to report the accident for hours, he acknowledged that Kopechne’s family suffered far worse. “Atonement is a process that never ends,” he wrote.

The excerpts are from the New York Times, which got an early copy of the book, provoking fury from some family members. One Kennedy relative told  MSNBC that the Times misrepresented the essence of the memoir, reading 15 pages and ignoring the rest of the weighty, 532-page tome.

We'll have to wait and read the book ourselves. In the meantime, the Times also reports that:

--President Kennedy was growing disenchanted with the Vietnam War but never had a chance to act on his misgivings. Briefed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren on the findings of the Warren Commission, the youngest Kennedy brother said he was satisfied with the commission's finding that a lone gunman was responsible for John Kennedy's 1963 assassination.

--Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy approached President Johnson about making him an envoy to broker peace in Vietnam. If LBJ had said yes, Ted Kennedy mused, Bobby Kennedy might not have run for president in 1968, when he was felled by an assassin's bullet.

--Teddy himself ran for president in 1980 in part out of anger at President Carter for his incremental approach to healthcare reform.

--After President Clinton confessed to an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Kennedy said he called and promised to stand by him. His ties to the Clintons weighed on him when he eventually endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008.

As for his own demons, Ted Kennedy said his religious faith helped him persevere. “I have fallen short in my life, but my faith has always brought me home,” he wrote.

The publisher, Twelve, said that the senator worked on the book over the last two years, finishing just a few weeks before his death. He relied on a diary he'd kept for 50 years, beginning with his brother John's presidential campaign in 1960, and on oral history interviews at the University of Virginia.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Kennedy is escorted from an Edgartown, Mass., courthouse after pleading guilty in 1969 to fleeing the scene of an accident. Credit: Associated Press

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